Knife-crime in Britain is rising almost everywhere

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THERE have been 119 murders in London this year. That is about the same as the number killed in the whole of 2017, excluding terrorist attacks. Four in ten victims were 24 years old or younger. In the six days from October 31st, there were five fatal stabbings in the capital.

The media has good reason to pay close attention to murders in the city. Stabbings are far more common in London than anywhere else in the country, and not only because it is so much bigger: it sees more violence per person than less populous areas do. Londoners make up 15% of the population of England and Wales, yet in 2017-18 the capital accounted for 22% of all murders and 36% of knife crime.

Yet the biggest increases in knife crime have been outside London (see chart). Since 2010-11 it has risen by a tenth there, and by a third in the rest of England and Wales. During the same period, knife crime leapt more sharply than the national average in the patches around Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool. The number of stabbings began to tick up in North Wales, Norfolk and Essex well before they did in London.

What explains the rise? Labour blames spending cuts: the number of police officers has fallen by 15% since 2010. Meanwhile new demands on officers, such as a recent run of accusations of decades-old sex abuse, take up their time. Another plausible explanation is a shift in the drugs market. A boom in the supply of crack cocaine has encouraged city gangsters to expand into towns once dominated by small-time dealers. Competition has sparked violent turf wars.

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